The history of music more often shows how the art of music is passed on from period to another- from traditions, teachers, society, institution, etc. It becomes apparent to the musicians of a generation with the gradual change of taste in music. The history of music, however, requires a certain organisation if the contrasting phenomena of changing phases are to made intelligible. It is only looking back from a distance in history that the contrasts become clear, enabling us to characterise in their light the phenomena that belong together or those that differ from one another. Only in this process can the eras and their boundaries be determined.
In the attempt to organise the historical material into eras and describe the musical events with which they are filled, the historian faces a choice between at least two possible procedures. He or she can either treat music as a phenomenon sui generic, describe its events from analytical and technical points of view and in that way develop an organisation and a terminology taken from the music itself and possessing value for music alone. Or it can be attempt to see the phenomena of music against a background of the social structure, of poetry, of pictorial art- in other words, against the background of the history of the human spirit. Both the methods have their advantages and disadvantages. However, if the results help to teach us to understand the music of an era, then each method serves the purpose in their own ways.
The authenticity of music is the desire to make music expressive again. The last century- 19th has seen symphony orchestras and its vibratoful performances being overthrown and have been enjoying the freedom that has been one. Yet as authentic recordings of greatest masterpieces begin to proliferate, a new pressure is being felt by the performers to make their version the most attractive. All the new recordings claim to be historically as accurate as possible in such a way so as to give an impression that no-one for instance would dream of using an unreliable old edition which was published fifty or sixty years ago. The instruments are now as practically possible on a documented performance actually directed by the composer. There are always likely to be differences in one scholar’s views of what constitutes historical accuracy to another scholar’s. People in general are merely interested in performances which bring the music to life for them: techniques and methods from the past but put to the service of modern, post-Romantic ways of thinking and reacting.
However, the question at the core is to what extent a personal interpretation of early music represents an affront to historical accuracy? If we have strayed away from this position then we should return to it to realise the genuine musical vision. Only in this way can early music forms such as Medieval and Renaissance be made expressive to the general public. However, it is not an easy task as we begin to examine and explore in the following two topics as discussed below.
THE GROWTH OF MUSIC IN THE RENAISSANCE
The past may be divided into comprehensible segments by singing out the greatest achievements of individuals, those original inventions and magnificent accomplishments that influenced future generations and raised their musical geniuses above their contemporaries. Dufay’s brilliant realisation of the possibilities for organising gigantic musical structures around borrowed melodies and his consummate skill in using the mellifluous English sonorities, for example, bespeak a genuinely new attitude toward the art of music. So also do Josquin’s amalgamation of Italianate and traits from Netherlands into a highly supple and expressive texture and Monteverdi’s stunning demonstration of the musical and dramatic potentials of the new techniques of the basso continuo and recitative, invented by lesser musicians. These are the great achievements that carried in themselves the seeds of further development.
Howard M. Brown in his book Music in the Renaissance (1976) cited the above which gives an idea or an overview of the kind of musical development that took place in the renaissance period. The word “Renaissance” is taken from the Latin word renasci which means rebirth. The idea took shape in the 14th century that Roman culture, language, literature, the plastic arts and painting had been awakened to new life after a death-like sleep for many centuries. It became in the course of the 15th century the feeling of living in a time of extensive renewal of human spirit of being “born again”. “Renaissance” is generally accepted in the terminology of universal history as distinguishing a complex of intellectual and spiritual currents- scientific, artistic, political, religious, social- within a period the boundaries of which while extremely flexible embrace chiefly the 15th and 16th centuries.
Renaissance in music comes to light as a spontaneous reaction- a violent opposition to an oppressive past. In Renaissance music, the musical elements of tone and rhythm are in equilibrium and through imitar le parole are brought on the way to the highest objective: to represent the effects to which the sensitive auditor will respond with understanding. Masses, motets, and settings of secular lyric poetry were the chief kinds of music written in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Only during the 15th century did the musicians begin to conceive all five sections of the Mass Ordinary- Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei- as a cycle by basing each movement on the same musical material. Whereas motets had existed since the 13th century, their character had changed over the years and many major developments of style between 1430 and 1600 can be best be examined by studying this genre. Chansons- settings of stereotyped French courtly lyrics- constituted the principal sort of secular music in the 15th century regardless of the composers’ nationalities. The 16th century saw a flowering of compositions in other languages, the Italian madrigal above all, but also settings of Spanish, German, Dutch, and finally English poems.
Historians, however, do not describe the past merely to picture it as it really was so much as they attempt to impose some order on intransigent reality to comprehend it better. One can be easily and falsely jump to the conclusion in the continuum of daily events that Renaissance never really existed and that it was just a continuation of the Middle Ages and 16th century. However, they are not satisfactory because in order to understand the past, we must continue to try to find characteristics common to many diverse phenomena and to find out which events were most significant or typical.
The dominion of the set pattern of melody and harmony was threatened and overcome by a number of forces, chief among them, the growth and development of new concepts of functional tonality with its orientation around the cadential formula V-I dominant to tonic. Dufay’s music permeated with the new sounds full of triads, already recognises this central principle. Later composers began to explore musical space, expanding the range of usable notes from low to high, and probing the furthermost reaches of chromaticism. In the course of two centuries, composers emancipated themselves from any of the pre-determined structures. They freed themselves from the shackles of medieval authority by inventing a more flexible and musically self-sufficient technique of organising form by means of thematic manipulation. Writing music by creating a series of points of imitation went hand in hand with the change from successive to simultaneous composition. Music based on cantus firmus was conceived one line at a time, but the intricate web of thematically interrelated melodies that constitutes a point of imitation had to be woven all at once by a composer working with one section at a time.
Josquin mirrored the structure of the poem in his music especially often in chansons which like Plusiers regretz were composed around a canon, the structural device that he used more than any other in his settings of serious courtly lyrics. Curiously, though, the scaffolding device is often hidden in the middle of a highly imitative texture that is itself capable of sustaining the musical fibric; in Plusiers regretz for instance the opening imitation and the clear motive structure “plusiers regretz” from “qui sur la terre sont” not only hide the canon at the fifth between the next-to-lowest and next-to-top voice but also make such a rigid framework superfluous.
If chansons constituted by far the largest part of Josquin’s secular works, he nevertheless composed several delightful frottole. Both In te domine speravi (with mixed Italian and Latin words) and the formally unconventional El grillo e buon cantore were published in frottola books as by “Jusquin d’Ascanio”.
Josquin and his contemporaries seem to have been among the first composers to create an abstract instrumental music and it seems unlikely that texts will ever be discovered for pieces such as Ile Fantazies de Joskin or La Bernardina. In sum, Josquin’s mastery of every genre cultivated in his time- Masses, motets, chansons, frottole, and instrumental carmina- explains his pre-eminence in the minds of his contemporaries and his stature today as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western Europe
THE PITFALLS OF MODERN STUDY OF RENAISSANCE MUSIC
The musicologists of the present day generally tend to be a bit guarded and cautious to discuss about renaissance music partly in fear of contradiction, partly in view of surviving documents copositions as “documents” and thus sacrosanct, unsuitable to be engaged at an interpretative level and partly in the difficulty of understanding emough of the technical basis in renaissance music to enable valid judgements to be made. However the question is how do we take account of period views without written authority for them? What evidence is there for renaissance music? This could be due to a valid point that quality is “period-dependent” or in other words, those alive around the time when the music was composed were capable of arriving at a valid judgement of its quality.
Even a brief acquitance with medieval polyphony reveals that its forward motion is generated by juxtapositions of dissonance and consonance: melodic lines start in a consonant relationship. For example, a fifth or an octave apart. Castiglione’s ‘The book of the courtier (1528) Value judgements in renaissance music were also based on snobbery. As James Harr notes:
It is not long ago that certain verses were presented here as being Sannazaro’s and they seemed most excellent to everyone and were praised with exclamations and marvel; then when it was known for certain that the verses were by someone else, they at once sank in reputation and were found to be less than mediocre. And a certain motent that was sung before the Duchess [Elisabetta Gonzaga] pleased no one and was not thought good until it was known to be by Josquin des Prez
The judgement used to be made on the basis of birth or even employment. Besides, plenty of single pieces are cited. But the discussion is always in purely technical terms and is concentrated on detail rather than on structural procedure. On the rare occasions when aesthetic aim is mentioned, the language chosen is the one in which crtical evaluation is absent. If a sizeable body of artistic polyphony could not be heard but seen and studied by musically literate professionals and amateurs, real grounds for development of critical and comparative evaluation of individual compositions- studied like paintings or poems- were being laid. Colin Slim has recently observed that Leonardo da Vinci, who thought music to be inferior to painting because of the evanescence of sound, admitted that “music becomes eternal when it is written down”. Music as a subject of serious critical study had to seen as well as heard.
Writers on music who through much of the 15th century aimed primarily at a small readership of Church musicians now directed their work at a much larger audience of educated amateurs. Some used to give a testimony to the wide acceptance of music with remarks to the effect that music as a rhetorical art capable of giving heightened utterance to the imagery and “affections” os words. Remarks in the coller vein of stylistic description can also be found. An example is Hermann Finck’s statement (1556) that the music of Gombert was in a new style because of its richness of texture and density of imitative counterpoint, placed in contrast to the “sparseness” of Josquin’s polyphony.
16th century music lovers could then hear individual composers’ voices; Zacconi , the writer who tell s us they did recognise the grace of Palestrina’s melody as opposed to the “judicious disposition” of material in Willaert; they applauded Lassus’s “outstanding inventiveness” as contrasted with more predictable regularity of Costanzo Porta’s art. Zacconi’s account suggested that Renaissance musicans were indeed able to talk well about music of their time but they simply did not systematixe this talk into critical theory. In 1570, the Duke of Mantua namely Guglielmo Gonzaga sent a piece of his own music to Palestrina, asking for crticism. This was his feedback:
Having let me hear a motet and a madrigal of your excellency, you have asked me to give you my frank opinion of your music… In order to study it more fully, I scored the motet, and have seen the bello artifico far from common, and the lively expression given the text. I have marked a few spots where it seems to me that the music could have a better sound, especially where you proceed from sixth to unison or use a series of ascending or descending fifth-sixth progressions. Similarly, there are places where the fugal procedure results in too many unisons, and the strict interweaving of imitative parts sometimes obscures the text so that hearers cannot enjoy it as in less strictly written music (musica comune).
On the other another writer like Palestrina stressed that contrapuntal technique alone does not produce really good music; the sound must satisfy the ear, the words must speak with clarity and affective force in the music. This only makes it evident to remark that Renaissance Music should be judged by how it sounds. However, most of the 15th and 16th century music has emphasised its technique almost to the exclusion of its sound. Though most of us have a natural tendency to love the sounds, as Zacconi suggested to think of sound and melody as partners with artifice in the creation of works at once artistically skilled and aesthetically satisfying. This should not be looked with a critical eye because evaluating music in this sense would also mean that we should judge it as a whole, seeing and hearing its technical elements as in the service of an authentic musical statement
Music has always been a subjective experience. To remark that one form of music is superior or inferior, listenable or not cannot be judged in intellectual terms. It is no exception for Renaissance Music that challenged the rigid, one track-minded compositions of structured musical forms. There is certainly an inclination for some people to like a particular style of music and for others to like another form of music, so and so forth. However, placing a tag on the worth of music is a result of preconceived ideas or intake of force-fed information by an elite society. The following statement by Johannes Tinctoris in the dedication of his Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477) would sum this whole topic on the danger of studying works of great composers in order to gain a balanced understanding of music in the Renaissance:
Further, although it seems beyond belief, there does not exist a single piece of music, not composed within the last forty years, that is regarded by the learned as worth learning. Yet at this present time… there flourish… countless composers, among them Jean Okeghem, Jean Regis, Antoine Busnoys, Firmin Caron, and Guillaume Fauges, who glory in having studied under John Dunstable, Gilles Binchoys, and Guillaume Dufay, recently deceased. Nearly all the works of these men exhale such sweetness that… I never hear them, I never examine them, without coming away happier and more enlightened.